Irene Slams the Hudson Valley

Hurricane Irene causes the worst upstate flooding in years

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
    A school bus navigates flooded streets in Margaretville.

    Torrential rains from Tropical Storm Irene forced hundreds in the Hudson Valley from their homes, caused widespread power outages, closed 137 miles of the state's main highway and swelled creeks and rivers to previously unseen levels.

    More than a foot of rain fell in parts of upstate New York, making many roads impassable — including the Thruway from Westchester County to Albany. Officials did not know when roads would reopen because flooding was expected to persist for days.

    Flooding contributed to at least two deaths in the state and caused widespread property damage. In hard-hit Shandaken in the Catskills, the rains transformed the winding Esopus Creek into a "roaring river" that spread across much of the rural town.

    "This is the highest we've seen in years. Our flood stage starts at about 11 feet. We're approximately 23 feet right now," Shandaken Supervisor Robert Stanley said Sunday. "Immense areas are under water, areas I've never seen flooded are flooded right now. Dikes are breaking behind homes all over the place."

    Communities around eastern New York were dealing with the deluge.

    Crews in Shandaken were trying to rescue people stuck in their flooded homes. New Paltz officials evacuated residences near the Wallkill River. About 120 residents of flooded Catskills communities took shelter at the state-run Belleayre Mountain ski resort.

    Residents of Schoharie County downstream of the Blenheim-Gilboa Dam were being advised to move to higher ground because of the potential for flooding along the Schoharie Creek. In Middletown, flood waters rushed down one downtown street like a spring stream.

    "I've got more than a stream. It's a river out there. It's bad," said Middletown resident Karen Clifford. "I was going to walk to the store to buy water, and I couldn't even get on the sidewalk. I just came back in."

    The state's Division of Military and Naval Affairs was redirecting National Guardsmen, airmen and members of the Naval Militia to Greene and Schoharie counties who had been sent downstate to provide assistance there.

    Ninety soldiers were assigned to Greene County; 70 airmen and 20 soldiers to Schoharie. At Stratton Air Base in Glenville, 120 members of the Naval Militia were gathering to await instructions. In addition, an engineering battalion was notified it could be called into action.

    Emergency officials in Ulster County said about 40,000 of the county's 95,000 electric customers were without power Sunday morning and the number crept up as the torrential rains continued. About 375,000 people were without power around upstate and New York City's northern suburbs Sunday afternoon — more than a third of the statewide total of 936,000 tallied by the Cuomo administration.

    It could be days before power is restored. Bianca Ferris of High Falls in Ulster County was told it would be several days before her family's home would get electric service back. Ironically, her parents and grandmother were up from Long Island to get out of Irene's path.

    "And now they're stuck because the Thruway is closed," she said.

    Thruway spokesman Michael Sullivan said parts of the highway were under 3 to 4 feet of water. Southbound lanes were closed Sunday for 137 miles from Exit 24 in Albany to Exit 12 at West Nyack. Northbound lanes are shut for 90 miles from Exit 8 in Westchester County to Exit 20 at Saugerties. The flooding from Tropical Storm Irene also has forced the closure of Tappan Zee Bridge.

    Sullivan did not know when the eastern sections of the highway would re-open.

    Irene dumped 13.3 inches of rain on rural East Durham in Columbia County and 12.2 inches in nearby Jewett. Kingston logged 7.85 inches of rain and 8.8 inches fell across the river in Rhinebeck, according to the National Weather Service. Meteorologist Vasil Koleci said many areas likely received record amounts of rain.

    At least two deaths in New York were blamed on the weather. Officials said a good Samaritan in New York City's northern suburbs was electrocuted trying to help a child who had gone into a flooded street that had live wires embedded in it.

    In the Albany County town of New Scotland, a woman's body was spotted in a creek Sunday afternoon after her husband reported her missing, state police said. Neither the identity of the woman nor details were immediately released by police.

    Gov. Andrew Cuomo posted online photographs that he took showing heavy flooding in Margaretville in Delaware County about 60 miles southwest of Albany. The photos show the hood of his SUV nearly topped by rushing, brown water. A photograph taken by Dick Sanford of the Catskill Mountain News in Arkville shows the governor's vehicle surrounded by water on Upper Main Street; A security guard is hanging on the door.

    Even as the storm churned north, fears lingered that conditions could get worse.

    The college town of New Paltz was heavily flooded on Sunday, and local officials ordered evacuation of about 125 homes in the Wallkill River.

    "We expect extensive flooding for probably several days here," said Michael Zierler, a resident with 2 feet of water in his basement.

    Cuomo and other officials advised people in the path of the storm to stay home, but not everyone was impressed enough to take their advice.

    In the Albany suburb of Latham, Lindsey Johnson of Troy shooed her small son off a display of snowblowers at an uncrowded Home Depot store.

    "It's just a storm," Johnson said. "The media has been hyping it all week but it's not that big a deal."

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    Associated Press writer Mary Esch and editor Rik Stevens contributed to this report.